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Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F worth the watch

The first task of any sequel is to justify its existence, and Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F clears the bar by staying true to its mission. From the moment the Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films logo flashes on screen and we’re reintroduced to Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy reprising the iconic character) driving through the streets of Detroit in his Chevy Nova with Glenn Frey’s “The Heat Is On” blaring, you know you’re in for a welcome trip down memory lane.

It might be odd to praise a movie for what it doesn’t do, but Mark Molloy deserves credit for not trying to reinvent the wheel in his directorial debut, especially after the recent folly of other franchises. As in the 1984 original, the humor in this fourth installment largely revolves around culture clashes and poking fun at the eccentricities of our West Coast amigos. A chic blonde driving a convertible Rolls Royce with a “PRE-NUP” vanity license plate? Check. A Pomeranian eating with chopsticks? Uh-huh. The overly chipper real-estate agent? She’s in here, too.

Within the movie’s first minutes, Axel busts the chops of Detective Mike Woody, a white colleague who awkwardly struggles to say “Negro Hockey League” during a boys’ night out. The punch of retro humor lands and even feels refreshing in light of modern comedy’s aversion to racial stereotypes. It also reassures audiences that although much has changed in the 30 years since the widely panned third film (which this movie playfully jabs), we can still count on Axel Foley for a good time.

Overanalyzing Axel F (as some critics have done) would spoil the fun, so we’ll stick to the basics: The movie’s straightforward plot kicks into gear shortly after Foley and Woody foil a heist at a Detroit Red Wings game (kudos to Molloy for filming it at an actual NHL match). On the eve of the forced retirement of Foley’s friend and longtime boss, Deputy Chief Jeffrey Friedman (Paul Reiser reprising his role), Friedman advises him to reconnect with his estranged daughter, who now lives in Los Angeles.

We then meet Jane (Taylour Paige), who has changed her last name from Foley to Saunders, and, unsurprisingly given her work as a criminal defense attorney, thinks little of her dad’s profession. Shortly after she discovers that there’s something fishy with the prosecution of one of her drug-trafficking clients, a couple of bad hombres push her BMW off the side of a high-rise parking garage, leaving it dangling by a cable hooked to a beat-up tow truck, just a few stories away from splattering on a downtown L.A. sidewalk, with her still inside. The scene’s practical effects, like those throughout the film, are a satisfying throwback to pre-CGI days, adding a heightened sense of realism and tension.

The secret sauce in Axel F is its blend of callbacks to the franchise’s legacy and our fondness for its colorful original cast, complemented by well-known additions and delightful surprises. It’s Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold back as Axel’s old pal) who informs Foley of his daughter’s near-death experience. John Taggart (John Ashton), retired in the third film, is now the chief of the 90210 police station. Footloose ’80s heartthrob Kevin Bacon plays the slick Captain Cade Grant, while Joseph Gordon-Levitt returns to a police-officer role as Detective Bobby Abbott. And, of course, no Beverly Hills Cop installment would be complete without Axel’s signature Detroit Lions jacket or Bronson Pinchot as the flamboyant and unforgettable Serge.

Ultimately, Murphy’s seamless comeback is the essential ingredient in the movie’s success. Striking the right balance was key: If his performance were merely a carbon copy of his previous outings, Foley would come across like that guy who peaked in high school and never grew up. On the other hand, drastic changes would make him unrecognizable. Murphy’s 2024 iteration of Axel Foley is pitch-perfect. Like that cool uncle, he may have mellowed a bit over the years, but he can still make you laugh. This approach lends credibility to Murphy as Paige’s father and enhances his interactions with the rest of the cast.

No scene better encapsulates Foley’s evolution than his check-in at his old stomping grounds at the Biltmore Los Angeles hotel. Halfway through his schtick posing as a British writer for Bon Appétit, he drops the act. “You know, to hell with this, I’m just too tired,” he tells the front-desk clerk before forking over $940 plus tax for a one-night stay — for those keeping track, that’s four times the rate he was billed during his first visit.

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F won’t bring back 1984 prices (a tall order for any film), but Murphy’s quips, familiar faces, Harold Faltermeyer’s iconic synth theme, and the decision to film on city streets instead of sound stages will transport you to better times. Naturally, we grade it on a curve; only a pretentious jerk would hold Pop’s home cooking to Michelin standards, and the same logic applies here. It’s not meant to rival the original, and Tony Scott’s stylistic flair in the 1987 follow-up is hard to match, but Axel F punches above its weight as a Netflix action-comedy, delivering exactly what it promises: a fun, nostalgic movie night at home.

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